Pakistan and New Zealand are set to clash in the first of three Tests in Abu Dhabi from Friday, 16 November with the odds firmly in favour of the home side.
The match begins at 10am local time at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi in UAE on Friday.
Pakistan have had a good run in Test cricket in recent times, belying their seventh position in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Team Rankings – this year, they beat Ireland in Ireland, then drew a two-Test series in England, and have since won the two-Test series in the United Arab Emirates against Australia 1-0.
New Zealand might be the fourth-best team in the world at the moment, but considering Pakistan’s form and the fact that the Tests will be played in the UAE, the visitors start as underdogs.
However, New Zealand have been one of the better travellers to the UAE since it became Pakistan’s adopted home. Pakistan and New Zealand drew the ODI series earlier Pakistan and New Zealand drew the ODI series earlier
The only time they have played Test cricket there since 2009, a three-Test series in 2014, it ended 1-1. Pakistan won the first Test in Abu Dhabi by 248 runs, the second in Dubai was drawn, and the third, in Sharjah, went the way of New Zealand by an innings and 80 runs.
Kane Williamson wasn’t captain then, Brendon McCullum was. But Williamson was in the team, as were Tom Latham and Ross Taylor among the batsmen, BJ Watling, the wicket-keeper, pacers Trent Boult and Tim Southee and leg-spinner Ish Sodhi.
They are all in the mix this time too, and though New Zealand started the tour by being swept 3-0 in the Twenty20 Internationals, they bounced back in the one-day internationals, which ended 1-1 with the final game abandoned. That should be reason for cautious optimism in the ranks.
The team looks solid, with Southee and Boult part of a strong pace attack that also has Matt Henry and Neil Wagner, and a spin department that’s nicely varied: Sodhi the leg-spinner, Ajaz Patel, the left-arm spinner, and newcomer William Sommerville, the off-spinner who has come in as Todd Astle’s sub.
But the Pakistanis are excellent for the conditions too, as one would expect.
They have left out Fakhar Zaman, despite the opening batsman scoring 94 and 66 in his debut Test, against Australia, and have instead included Saad Ali, the uncapped 25-year-old top-order batsman from Karachi who scored 144 from No.6 in a recent fixture for Pakistan A against New Zealand A.
The other new face in the squad is a more expected one – Shaheen Shah Afridi, has emerged as one of the most exciting young pacers lately, and was among the wickets in the T20Is and ODIs. He completes a pace line-up that has the incredible Mohammad Abbas, Mir Hamza, Hasan Ali and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf.
The rest of the squad are along expected lines, with a lot of experience in the batting with Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq, and Yasir Shah as the spin front-man.
Pakistan are favourites, but New Zealand have the personnel to push the ‘home’ side to the limit.
Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan): A total of 59 wickets from 10 Tests, including 17 in two Tests against Australia just the other day – 28-year-old Abbas is one of the finest pacers in the game today and definitely the one New Zealand must be wary of.
Ross Taylor (New Zealand): Experience matters – Taylor has all the pedigree, accumulated over 85 Test matches, and is in good form, as the 80 and 86* in the ODIs prove. He will have to be the pivot around which the batting revolves.
The sun will be out, if a few clouds threaten, they might not for long, and the temperatures should be around 35ºC. And then we’ll see if the fast bowlers get any purchase out of the pitch as the spinners most likely will.
Will Sommerville has replaced Todd Astle in the New Zealand ranks Will Sommerville has replaced Todd Astle in the New Zealand ranks
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (c & wk), Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Bilal Asif, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Hafeez, Saad Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Yasir Shah
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Jeet Raval, Ish Sodhi, William Somerville, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling (wk)